From the ears to the heart: Tower of Power

On January 17th of last year, a legendary brass player passed away. Mic Gillette, who joined the Gotham City Crime Fighters (which later evolved into the Tower of Power) at age 15, played a variety of instruments — from the trumpet and trombone to the baritone and tuba. Tower of Power is an American R&B-based horn section and band from Oakland, California that has been performing since 1968. Its horn section has often performed separately, but Tower of Power is best known for their funky soul sound highlighted the horns and bass-guitar lines. Among their most highest-charting songs is “Soul with a capital S,” though Gillette was on hiatus during the production of this album, T.O.P.

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From the ears to the heart: Lorde

My current obsession: Lorde’s Yellow Flicker Beat. Lorde may not yet be considered a lyrical genius, but her songs sure are a nice break from the ubiquitous formulaic pop songs. Take a listen to the song yourself:  Continue reading

From the ear to the heart: Florence + The Machine

All of Florence + The Machine’s songs are perfect, but here’s my favorite, Never Let Me Go. Written by Florence Welch, Paul Epworth and Tom Harpoon, the  song is the third song off of Florence + The Machine’s second studio album, Ceremonial, released in 2011. The song speaks of succumbing to (or maybe being overwhelmed by) an emotion, perhaps passion, love or depression.

The best thing is, not only is Florence an amazing singer, her lyrics are incredibly deep, and even her MVs are so meaningful!

Florence Welch has such a powerful voice, and her ballads truly speak to the soul. Take a listen yourself (and if you have time, check out Cosmic Love, too; it’s another one of my favorite by F+tM).

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From the ear to the heart: Halsey & Electropop

tumblr_ntaz9jGAUC1spwufeo1_1439943176_coverHalsey, whose stage name is an anagram of her real name Ashley Nicolette Frangipane, is a 21-year-old electro-pop singer from New Jersey. After gaining attention for both her covers and original songs on SoundCloud, she signed with a record label and released an EP (Room 93) on October 27, 2014. Fans fell in love with her unique voice and Room 93 established her as a dynamic and honest singer. Her debut studio album, Badlands, was released on August 28, 2015, and that’s when I first fell in love with this little gem.

Badlands is actually based on a fictional dystopian society called The Badlands, which was inspired by movies such as Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, Halsey said in an interview, and became a metaphor for her mental state and real life struggles, which indeed, heavily influence her songs. The album opens with “Castle,” and from the beginning we see Halsey’s emotions manifest themselves within her songs. Dubbed “an angry female record” by Halsey herself, she sings about the “old man sitting on the throne that’s saying that I probably shouldn’t be so mean.” 

“New Americana,” the second single off the track, is the song that brought Halsey the most attention as a member of the new generation, the generation whom the public and society see as “a mess.” This album essentially captures the feelings of growing up in this age, and from “Drive” to “Control,” Halsey explores the confusion and tells the uncensored tales of the youth. With soft vocals that seem to express her unspeakable pains, backed by a dark and defiant instrumental, “Colors” is, like its name suggests, colorful. Graphic colors and images paint a grim picture of love: “You were red and you liked me because I was blue/You touched me and suddenly I was a lilac sky/And you decided purple just wasn’t for you.” The album ends on “I Walk The Line,” a slow and dreary track, reminiscent of the sounds of Portishead, that concludes with the line “I find myself alone when each day is through.”

Loneliness. Depression. Confusion.
Sex. Drugs. Dreams.
This is Halsey’s diary filled with her deepest secrets and fears — the voice of the troubled youth — and though her vocals aren’t particularly spectacular, this album is so beautifully raw and emotional.

Find the album on iTunes or Amazon. 

Thoughts That Breathe: A Pair of Shoes

“A Pair of Shoes” – Vincent Van Gogh

A poem based off of the following painting (“A Pair of Shoes”) by Vincent Van Gogh.

I remember the smile on your face when you scored your very first goal on the soccer field.
I remember the cries of pain when you fell down from your bike at age 4.
I remember your eagerness, as we first walked into your kindergarten class and your classmates ran over to hug you.
I remember your grief, when you understood that the world could be very cruel to even an eight-year-old.
I remember your happiness, when you finally found love under a night full of beautiful stars.

I remember everything you remember, and much, much more.

I remember watching you as you cried yourself to sleep, wishing I could wipe away your tears.
I remember walking with you along the river, wishing you would tell me what happened.
I remember laughing silently when you spilled your chocolate milk all over me.
I remember the joy I felt when you walked across that stage.
I remember wishing all these moments would last forever.

But I’m old and worn-out now, and I will no longer be able to walk down these paths with you for much longer.

I’ll no longer be able to see or remember everything with you.

Will you remember me, too?

Will you remember all the times we ran across the grass, feeling like nothing could ever hold us back?
Will you remember all the times we sat together on the back porch, enjoying the silence?
Will you remember all the times we looked at the moon together, in awe of its brightness?
Will you remember all the times we walked together — sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes feeling just fine?
Will you remember?

***

Here I am, sitting alone in this home that used to light up whenever you were awake.
Here I am, bearing the gusts of wind and rain alone; no one will hold the umbrella for me anymore.
Here I am, listening to the cheers of the little soccer players outside — just like I did years ago.
Here I am, feeling bored, because it’s weird being by myself again.
Here I am now, growing weaker, for without your support and love to fill me,
I am but just a pair of shoes.

van-gogh-a-pair-of-shoes

not preparation for life, but life itself

I am arguing for the rights of all books in the public education system.

(Okay, maybe except for Fifty Shades of Grey. Or Twilight…like, look at this one paragraph. Look at it and cry. )

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Aro started to laugh. “Ha, ha, ha,” he chuckled. 

Annie agreed this writing was terrible. “I agree this writing is terrible,” she agreed.

Anyways, onto the rest of the post…

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This is not where it ends

Here it is, my last official blog assignment of my high school career, in which I dedicated a blog post to my blog.

(Yes, I know that this was due two weeks ago.
Yes, my grade can most definitely handle a zero at this point.
And yes, I did just graduate three days ago.)

Truthfully, I was just going to ride out the wave that was senior year; after all, I had been diagnosed early on  with a severe case of senioritis.

But for some reason, not writing this last post didn’t seem right, and maybe it’s because this blog has grown into something bigger than an assignment.

I began this blog two years ago, the fall of 2014, because the junior English teachers decided to try giving us weekly assignments through blog posts, so that we would have more experience in expressing our thoughts (in a casual setting). I remember sitting there while my friends came up with great blog names (see Name in the Wind or The Odd Hope). When my friends asked me what I liked most, I said ‘smiles’ and ‘kittens’ (still true) and so my blog name became thus: Smiles and Kittens. (I did get a lot of traffic from poor cat lovers who accidentally stumbled upon my blog in search for cute cat videos–which, to be fair, I did have some).

That first year (or, half a year), my blog was read 1800 times by people from 16 different countries. And that’s when I realized the potential this blog had, and more importantly, that I had. I could touch the lives of those around the world just from my computer screen and through my words. Most of my works and writing have only ever been viewed by my close friends, family and teachers, but here, the world could see it. So I decided, “Hell yes. I’m going to make this blog into my personal-but-not-personal-diary.”

In 2015, I began publishing posts about my travels, recipes and food cravings, and my reactions to the current political situation as well as other issues. My blog hit 87 countries (!!!) and I thought, “You know what? I think I like this, this idea that maybe my words might just be important to some people.” So I kept blogging, both for school and outside. Certainly, the number of my posts died down, to where I was only blogging about school assignments (I told you, senioritis is real and I caught it).

Finally, this time of year rolled around, only this time, I would never have another “blog assignment” ever. I’m a high school graduate now, and this blog is now, well, just another blog on the internet, and the one guaranteed reader I had (my teacher, that is) won’t be checking it either.

I could have left this blog as is, just floating around on the web, but I just can’t give it up. I would, however, like to change something: I have finally thought of a good blog name after these two years, and I present:

"All the Beautiful Times"

Yes, I realize that that is indeed a lyric from a Taylor Swift song. Yes, I know I’m obsessed. But it reminds me of all the beautiful times that we (my blog and I) shared together, at midnight (like right now) where I would be frantically typing my thoughts before they flew away). More importantly, it’s a reminder of all the beautiful times to come.

I can only hope that this blog will be loved by you guys as much as I love it! And please, keep checking back because there WILL be new content in the future. Love you guys so much! ❤

FROM ME TO YOU

Today’s the day. Today’s it.

Today’s graduation, the day I embark on a new journey in life, the commencement of my final summer before I have to physically leave everything I’ve known so far in my life — my friends, my family and even my town.

By now, you’d think I had it all down. I was the confused girl who took a deep breath and walked through the doors on the morning of her very first day (yes, that was indeed a Taylor Swift reference), and now I’m one of the leaders of the school. I should be writing down all my advice to give to all the underclassmen here…

…problem is, I don’t really have any…at least, none that you guys would truly listen to (ex. I would tell you to not procrastinate, but to no avail: for this was written three hours before it was due). What I do have, though, is a multitude of advice that I’ve gleaned from those around me in the past eighteen years. Perhaps these will help you as much as they helped me.

***

No one has had more influence on my life than my mother. Stubborn, blunt and absolutely hilarious, she always has a way of turning rain into sunshine. “Don’t forget about your family! We’re here for you!” she always yells. “And don’t forget to call!”

Mrs. Faith has been one of my most influential teachers. Besides teaching me chemistry and living up to her name (literally), here’s one piece of advice you’ll definitely want to listen to: “It is inevitable that you will have hard times in your life. Just remember that you are growing stronger to support others during their difficult moments. Also, be sure to let people who you cherish know how you really feel about them.”

He’s not really one to talk, but some things my dad is really passionate about are thunderstorms. “Continue to watch the storms,” he told me one night during a raging storm, “even when I’m not there.”

“Hey! Share that with me!” That’s my little brother, asking me to share everything with him. And by doing so, he’s taught me compassion, love and joy. What’s the fun in keeping everything to yourself?

The girl who’s been with me from beginning to end is amazing. I don’t even know how she manages to balance everything, and even when nothing seems to be working out, she makes it happen. I can’t even think of how to properly thank her for standing by me all these years, but she’ll just laugh and tell me, “You’ve got this” with a thumbs-up.

One of the strongest women in my life is my grandma. As a young girl who grew up in Communist China, she managed to get an education in one of the largest cities in China (despite not even knowing Mandarin) and later became a professor. Yep, a female professor in a country where more than half of the people were uneducated. “Use your voice,” she’d tell you. “That’s what your mouth’s for.”

My newspaper staff is my second family. They’ve taught me perseverance (saying deadline days are rough is an understatement). But we’re such an animated and beautiful group of people who’ve learned how to survive the highest ups and the lowest downs. “Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.”

***

Sometimes, as I’m listening to my parents argue about who should turn on the T.V., I think, “I’m leaving this mess.”

Yet late at night, when I have trouble falling asleep, I can’t help but think about today, the day that I will no longer be sleeping in my bed, covered with stuffed animals and layers of blankets.

But maybe that’s okay. That’s totally okay, because today, I’ll leave with the advice of giants beneath me. And hopefully, eventually you’ll gain your own mountain of advice and love.

Best of luck!

 

Tabletalk

The Chinese have a tradition of always sitting at the table after eating lunch or dinner — dirty dishes and all — to talk for half an hour. It doesn’t matter the occasion or the guests around the table ; everyone takes some time out of their busy day to stay connected with friends and family in real life (not just via phone screens).

My family doesn’t always have time to do so (since we’re either at school or work), but today after lunch, we just sat around the table and talked to each other. You definitely realize how much you’ve missed, even though you’re living under the same roof as your family members. That’s why the Chinese release everyone from work/school from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to have enough time for lunch and talking.

And for me, who’ll be going off to college in a couple of months, these after-lunch-talks are invaluable. In fact, I propose we add the following word to the English dictionary: tabletalk.

tabletalk (n) - the time after lunch or dinner spent talking
to the people you shared the meal with

Ex. As I head off for college, I realize the importance of tabletalk and wish I hadn’t substituted it for playing on my phone or studying in my room.

Hell is empty and all the devils are here

“Dad, please give me the box,” the woman begged me. “You really shouldn’t have it.”

“Ma’am, I promise you have the wrong person,” I answered, panicking. “I don’t know who your dad is, but I’m not him.”

At least, as far as I was aware, the nineteen-year-old me — with my awkward lankiness and my I-tried-to-save-money-by-cutting-my-own-hair haircut — hadn’t been sleeping around with any girls and certainly couldn’t be the father of a thirty-year-old woman. But the lady had such an urgent look on her face as she wildly waved her arms that even I was confused: maybe she did have an eerily similar face as mine…

***

All I’d wanted to do was catch the final train of the day from Boston to New York. Or rather, I was sent to deliver a large box from one of my closest friend to his uncle. It wasn’t a terribly large box; he’d just wanted to send some medicine and pills over to a sick family member, but because of conflicts in his work schedule, I volunteered to go instead. Covered in golden swirls, the box could easily be held in one hand, and a quick shake revealed that it likely was just a few pills in the box.

Yet as I purchased the ticket, I noticed a strangely dressed woman following me; she was easy to spot, with her bizarre hat and a huge map tucked underneath her arm. She cast several strange glances at me, so I stood as far away from her as I could. It was already nine by the time the train arrived, and the platform was almost empty, save for a few stragglers here and there. I decided to go to the last car, but as the train bells began to ring, I saw her running frantically towards my car, jumping in just as the doors began to close.

And then it was quiet, just the two of us staring at each other. I looked back down at the box. A shadow appeared before me, and I looked up to see the woman standing right in front me. I could see her clearly now: her choice of outfit, which seemed to be silver trash bag, was strange, and her rainbow-sprinkled top hat — which she couldn’t seem to stop twirling around –matched her rainbow-spotted heels.

“Ahh, Richa–, I mean, Dr. Worce–, uh, gosh, they really shouldn’t have sent me, but yeah, hey Dad,” the woman stuttered. “I–, could you hand me the box?”

“What?” I asked, clutching the small box closer to my chest. “What’s all this about dad’s and Drs. and boxes?”

***

“You have to hand me the box,” the woman said. “I’m Vanessa. They sent me to come get the back –which I really don’t understand why, since I’m not well trained in time-traveling and I talk to much when I’m scared and nervous and that, they say, I get from you, but –”

I stood up.

“Alright,” I said. “A) I most certainly do not ramble like you do when I get nervous or scared, and as you can see right now I’m definitely not nervous or scared or talking too much. B) Time-traveling does not exist. C) I’m Richard, and I’m 19 and not old enough to have a grown-up child. D) What’s in this box does not concern you.”

The train had begun slowing down as it entered one of the smaller stops along the way. As it lurched to a stop, Vanessa began turning her hat this way and that, muttering under her breath.

“You don’t understand. This concerns the fate of our world, of humanity, and what you have in your hands could destroy our future, which is why you should give it to me.”

“Perhaps Vanessa, you mean to say, ‘Which is why you should not give it to me,” a booming voice echoed throughout our car. A tall man strolled in, glaring at Vanessa. The two looked no more than five years apart, and as each eyed the other closely, I realized something else: both had the same birthmark on their arm. It was the same one I had on mine.

“Well, Dad, good to finally be able to meet  you,” he said to me. “Though I suggest you take the box and run for your life.”

With that, he pushed me out of the car as Vanessa lunged towards me, her skin slowly melting into her silver trash-bag dress. I tumbled onto the platform as the train began to pull away, with the man and Vanessa-turned-silver-robot shooting at each other between the aisles. Panting, I looked at the small golden box I held in my hands.

Just the hell was going on, and what exactly was in this little box?